Immigrant stories: Glenwood Springs man’s father came to the U.S.A. from China as a paper son
Nearly all immigrant groups have experienced discrimination in America, but none have experienced it as dramatically as the Chinese. In 1882 the United States established the Chinese Exclusion Act and for the next 60 years, the Chinese were the only ethnic group in the world that could not freely immigrate to the United States. But the resourceful Chinese immigrant community devised a way around this injustice. They created “paper sons.” Here Calvin Lee describes his father’s experience as a “paper son” immigrating to America.Lee: I was born in San Francisco. My parents were both born in China, the southern part of China in the 1920s. When my father was 12 years old, the United States of America was known as “gim-san,” Gold Mountain. The Chinese believed that you came over here, picked gold off the streets and became wealthy, sending money back to the relatives in China or returning to China a wealthy person. However, at that time, there was a quota. The Chinese were the first people that the immigration service in America put a quota on. The U.S. government and the American people were afraid of the Chinese. The Chinese were seen as the “yellow peril.” Americans were afraid that they were going to be overrun by the Chinese, and so there was a permit system. Only a few people had a permit to come over. So when my father was 12, his family paid a family who had a permit $1,500 to allow my father to pretend to be their son. And since he was not their real son, in China he was known as a “paper son”, a son by paper only. That family’s last name was Lee, and that’s why my last name is Lee. It is not my real last name. My father’s real last name in China was Yee. The paper family wrote out a 10-page notebook of their biography for my father to take with him on the boat. He had to memorize their story because he was going to be interrogated by immigration services when he arrived. And sure enough, when he arrived from China in San Francisco Bay he was confined to a barracks and interrogated for three months. They finally released him into San Francisco, where he lived with his half brother and worked in the shipyard. During World War II, he helped build battleships for the Navy.
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